Right to Information Act

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Right to Information Act (RTI) is an Act of the Parliament of India “to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens” and replaces the erstwhile Freedom of information Act, 2002.

Under the provisions of the Act, any citizen of india may request information from a “public authority” (a body of Government or “instrumentality of State”) which is required to reply expeditiously or within thirty days.

The Act also requires every public authority to computerise their records for wide dissemination and to proactively certain categories of information so that the citizens need minimum recourse to request for information formally.

This law was passed by Parliament on 15 June 2005 and came fully into force on 12 October 2005.

The first application was given to a Pune police station. Information disclosure in India was restricted by the Official Secrets Act 1923 and various other special laws, which the new RTI Act relaxes. It codifies a fundamental right of citizens.

An outstanding feature of the Act is the provision for Information Commissions- independent high-level bodies at both the Central and the State levels that are dedicated to encouraging the citizen’s right to know and enforcing the provisions of the Act.

Information means any material in any form including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any law at the time being in force but does not include ‘file notings’.

The Act overrides the Official Secrets Act, 1923, that information commissions can allow access to information if public interest overweighs harm to protected persons.

What ‘Public Authority’ Mean?

-By or under the Constitution or by any other law made by Parliament or State Legis­lature.

-By notification issued by appropriate Government & includes anybody owned, controlled or substantially financed.

-Non-Government organization substan­tially financed directly or indirectly by the appropriate Government.

Public Information Officers

-Public Information Officers (PIOs) are officers designated by the public authorities in all administrative units or offices under it to provide information to the citizens requesting for information under the Act.

-The duties of a PIO are following:

-PIO shall deal with requests from per­sons seeking information and where the request cannot be made in writing, to render reasonable assistance

-PIO shall either provide the infor­mation within 30 days of receipt of the request

-Where a request has been rejected, the PIO shall communicate to the reasons for such rejec­tion.

What Information Excluded From Disclosure?

-that affect the sovereignty & integrity of India, security, strategic, scientific or economic interests, relation with foreign State or lead to in­citement of an offence;

-expressly forbidden by any court or tribunal to be published

-cause a breach of privilege of Parliament or the State Legislature

-commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellec­tual property

-available to a person in his fiduciary relationship,

-received in confidence from foreign government, the disclosure of which would endanger the life or physical safety of any person

-impede process of investigation

-Cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers

-personal information, the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public

-all exempted information can be disclosed after 20 years with few exemptions

Who is excluded?

-Central Intelligence & Security agen­cies specified in 2nd Schedule

-Agencies specified by the State Governments through a Notification. The exclusion, however, is not absolute and these organizations have an obligation to provide information pertaining to allegations of corruption and human rights violations.

-Further, information relating, to allegations of human rights violations could be given but only with the approval of Central or Stale Information Commission.

Applications for Information:

-Application Procedure for requesting information is to apply in writing or through electronic means in English or Hindi or in the official language of the area, to the PIO; reasons for seeking information are required to be given.

-The time limit to get the information:

-30 days from the date of application

-48 hours for information concerning the life or liberty of a person

-If the interests of a third party are in­volved then time limit will be 40 days

-No fees will be charged from people living below the poverty line.

-It carries strict penalties for failing to provide information which include departmental proceedings against the erring official, and a fine of Rs. 250 per day (subject to a maximum of Rs 25000) if information is delayed beyond 30 days without reasonable cause.

-The appeal against denial of information lies first to superior PIO, then to Information Commission and then to High Court.

Central and State Information Commissions:

-Central Information Commission is to be constituted by the Central Government. It includes 1 Chief Informa­tion Commissioner (CIC) and not more than 10 Information Commissioners (IC) who will be appointed by the President.

-Appointment Committee includes PM (Chair), Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and 1 Union Cabinet Mini­ster to be nominated by the Prime Minister. Oath of office will be administered by the Governor according to the form set out in the First Schedule.

-CIC/IC must be persons of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in law, science and technology, a social service, management, journalism, mass media or administration and governance.

-CIC/IC shall not be Member of the Legislature of any State or UT. He shall not hold any other office of profit or, connected with any political party or carrying on any busi­ness or pursuing any profession.

-CIC and ICs shall be appointed for a term of 5 years from the date on which he enters upon his office or till he attains the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier. They are not eligible for re-appointment. IC is eligible for appointment as CIC but will not hold office for more than a total of 5 years including his/her term as IC.

-Salary of CIC will be the same as that of the Chief Election Commissioner and that of ICs equivalent to Election Commissioner. This will not be varied to their disadvantage.

-Commission shall have its Headquarters in Delhi.

-State Information Commission will be constituted by the State Government. It will have 1 State Chief Information Commissioner (SCIC) and not more than 10 State information Commissioners (SIC) to be appointed by the Governor.

-Appointments Committee will be headed by the CM. Other members include the Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly and 1 Cabinet Mini­ster nominated by the Chief Minister.

-The qualifications for appointment as SCIC/SIC shall be the same as that for Central Commissioners.

-The salary of the State Chief Informa­tion Commissioner will be the same as that of an Election Commissioner. The salary of the State Information Commissioner will be the same as that of the Chief Secretary of the State Government.

-Central Information Commis­sion/State Information Commission has a duty to receive complaints from any person who has been refused information or received no response or thinks information given is in­complete or false or thinks the fees charged are un-reasonable;

-CIC/SCIC will have powers of Civil Court.

-CIC will send an annual report to the Central Govern­ment at the end of the year to be placed before Parliament. SIC will send a report to the State Government to be placed before Vidhan Sabha.

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